March 29, 2007

Powers of 10

Anybody who has had Mr. Ezell's Physics class at Campbell has heard of the Powers of 10. It is the general concept of seeing the world at magnifications of 10 (inspired in Mr. Ezell's class by a video from MIT). In it, you can see things as small as quarks and then move out to things as large as thousands of galaxies. After reading Sadiq Alam's blog recently, I came across a Powers of 10 animation from Florida State University and I thought it was worth putting up here too. I think this kind of video helps us see a vision like Ellie Arroway speaks of in Carl Sagan's movie Contact:

"A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not, that none of us are alone! I wish... I... could share that... I wish, that everybody, if only for one... moment, could feel... that awe, and humility, and hope. But... That continues to be my wish."

March 25, 2007

The Secret

There is a lot of talk about The Secret right now. I think the general idea of the Law of Attraction is a very helpful one, one I would like to write quite a bit more about in fact. For now though, I would just like to include here the video about The Secret.

March 21, 2007

Live Off Campus

How often do you drive off campus? Do you ever attend Kiwanis meetings or visit the town hall, the chamber of commerce or the public library? There is a lot to do on campus, but what about off campus? All around us hundreds and thousands of people (like our professors) live in houses, apartments and townhouses; they work in the cooperative extensions office, public library, campus services, the post office, and businesses all over the community. To experience that life off campus, to smile and laugh with people in the community, you have to go out into it.

When I first got to Campbell, even before classes started, I went out to the town hall and asked what kinds of opportunities were available to help in the community. Admittedly, this was pretty strange behavior to begin with, but after a little bit of searching I got some good answers. I ended up in the Kiwanis club on campus and a few months later had helped found a Circle K club at Campbell. Three years and quite a few experiences later I can say that having a life off campus has made my time at Campbell worth having. Classes and labs and homework are great and all (sure they are!) but community, volunteering, shadowing, leading clubs, visiting libraries, exploring other cities and having adventures off campus is really what gives me the life to keep studying, going to class and doing all that other stuff. If you go to class, study, eat, sleep and do it all over again, stop it. Put other stuff in between. Go off campus, visit your community, get a free library card, do something crazy, skip a class or two, listen to your professors when they tell you to try some kind of ice cream at Sunni Sky's or see some exhibit at some museum. Campbell is a small place but it is part of something much bigger. Get out and experience it and have life off campus too.

March 19, 2007

Let's Talk

What are we doing here? Ultimately I think we are trying to change lives. Yes, we are reading books and watching movies and studying history, but that is useless if we don’t use it here, now and in the future. War, some people think, is the nature of man. I personally do not think this. I agree that war has been made by humans all throughout history, but I believe that demonstrates habit not nature. I believe there are options beyond war and there are examples of men and women in history who have rejected war, even violence altogether, and have since spawned at least new ideas and at most new world religions.

Who are we? Are we the future world leaders who will make change in the world or just people who read about the past and decide to repeat it without question? I hope we would care enough about the world and other people to not just repeat history but instead make history by trying something new. Like what? Like love for starters. Not the kind of love that you wear on a gold necklace, but the kind that makes you sell all your gold necklaces and give the money to people who need it more than you. Not the kind of love that defends itself but the kind that sacrifices itself without violence or resistance. Not the kind of love that kills an enemy but the kind that embraces them knowing they might be stabbed in the heart.

I’m not sure if that kind of love is action-packed enough to make its way into the movies 300 or Gladiator, but it was apparently enough to make it into the movies Gandhi and The Passion of the Christ. Why do we associate the words bravery, honor, discipline and loyalty more with the first two movies (300 & Gladiator) than we do with the last two (The Passion & Gandhi)? Maybe it’s because we like immediate gratification or because we like to imagine a world where good guys kill bad guys and eliminate them forever. I’m not sure. Why have we not headed the message of Abraham Lincoln when he said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” Maybe it’s not glamorous, but I imagine a world where war is outdated and resistance is weakness, where peace is possible and nonviolence is strength and I like that. Maybe I’m crazy.

I have watched Vietnam movies, read Vietnam books, perused Vietnam poems, listened to Vietnam veterans, discussed Vietnam with my friends, wrote many pages on Vietnam, and was supposed to write my thoughts on Caputo’s book Rumor of War here in this thought piece on Vietnam, but I think there is something else I would like to do. Caputo himself says in his book, “So I guess every generation is doomed to fight its war, to endure the same old experiences, suffer the loss of the same old illusions, and learn the same old lessons on its own” (Pg. 81). I would like to debate that. Rather than remain a topic or lecture, I think war and Vietnam can turn from papers into practices and from controversies into conversations. Too often violence is a shelf item packed into articles and books and speeches every day in America, let’s talk about that. War is a political agenda stuffed into homes, foreign countries and international debate rooms, let’s talk about that. Love is an overused, ill-defined, comfortable, unsacrificial, flower-embedded, chocolate-covered, sappy word apparently unfit for use in our national politics, let’s talk about that. Why is it seen as strong to fight and kill others for our country but weak to object to war and seek peaceful reconciliation with others? Why do the words “friends” and “family” limit themselves exclusively to the people we grew up with and to people from our own country?

I think humans can change their course. There are many problems in our world including starvation, suffering, disease, gaps in wealth, corrupt leaders and disillusioned citizens, but I think there are very deep reasons why these problems are occurring. To say this is a natural state of man confuses correlation with causation, I believe. Humans do make bad decisions, but I think when provided with the education to understand what good options are available people will choose to do good things. There are people who take more than they give, but we could all do better at giving at least, if not more, than what we take. I like this model personally and I think this is what I would like for us to talk about in class. We can study war all day long and continue to make decisions which perpetuate war in our culture or consider it inevitable, but we can also study war and then start to consider new options. Let’s talk about that.

March 15, 2007


It does not matter whether you are a theist or atheist, what matters is sincerity, forgiveness, and compassion. - The Dalai Lama

A lot comes with the word God. Consequently a lot comes with the words theist and atheist; respectively, one who believes in one or many gods and one who believes in the nonexistence of god(s) or rejects theism. Labels are helpful for us, especially when we want to categorize people and be on our way, but often labels miss the mark that an in-depth relationship could make. One of my favorite religious quotes of the moment comes from the self-proclaimed and rather famous atheist Richard Dawkins in his recent TIME magazine debate with Francis Collins:

“If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

I find that very interesting. Dr. Dawkins might scold me outright for saying it, but that doesn’t sound much like an atheist to me. It sounds like an anti-religious person, but it doesn’t like an atheist. Dr. Dawkins has spent a lot of his life talking about what God isn't, but this is one of the quotes I have come across that hints to what he thinks God might be. Whatever the case, I think the quote has a lot of merit. We might spend a lot of time debating people who challenge our concepts of Truth and God, but what if we are way off and Truth and God are "a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything we have ever proposed"? Just judging by our advancements in science over the last fifty years, I would say that is quite possible.

So where do we go from there? I think the Dalai Lama's position, and that of Buddhism in general, is to move past God debates. What they suggest focusing on is what is answerable: shared human principles, shared human experience, and needed human action. Earlier the Dalai Lama suggested three of those principles are sincerity, forgiveness and compassion. I would add to that curiousity: a deep search for truth, wherever that leads us and as uncomfortable a place as that might be. I think when we do that we will be rewarded with an introspective and thoughtful life that respects the people and things around us. We will also have a lot of fun, learn a lot about ourselves and ultimately serve our purpose and, I think, our God (whatever you think that may or may not be).


We should not be too concerned with our fame or what people say about us, either bad or good because in reality fame could not make any serious difference to one’s life. Therefore, we should have our priorities right, and seek what is truly of value, what is truly of meaning to our life not just mere fame, which is, after all, empty sounds.
- The Dalai Lama

How often do we hold back what we really think from others? Why in the world would we do that? If we go quietly into the night, if we shy away from conversation about topics on which we disagree with others, if we don't say what we really think, what will happen? Nothing. Absolutely nothing will happen. We won't have ever shared our real selves with anyone and even if we were loved by anyone we weren't loved for who we really were. Image is useless if all it does is stop us from truly caring about anyone or anything. If you care about something, say something, do something. I love Barack Obama and the kind of politician he is, I love books, Denzel Washington, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lost and what it stands for, books, my friends and family, playing team sports, Peace Corps, wearing clothes that actually feel comfortable, air conditioning, feng shui, meditation, music, volunteering, taking photographs, making websites, thinking about the future, believing the world is good and people are good too, spending my time trying to help others and believing humanity can advance and become better. I love this stuff and frankly, I am calling myself out: I need to spend my time doing these things, thinking about these things and talking about these things. If I don't do what I love, then I'll just end up living, not doing anything, and dying. Living like you're going to die tomorrow means doing what is truly of meaning in your life, today. What is truly of meaning in your life?

March 8, 2007

The Bet

Over the break I have been able to try something very new for me, thanks to my close friend Jonathan. While eating at Akito's, one of our favorite restaurants, Jonathan said to me that he had a bet. If I could go one week without planning and organizing, he said, he would go one week without using his cellphone. I was intrigued. Jonathan knows I plan and organize things to a fault and I know that Jonathan communicates with others to a fault as well. By purging ourselves for a little while, the hope was that we would define that fault and then be better for it. With a little bit of help from my sister Leighanna, we discussed terms over some delicious teriyaki chicken:

I, from Monday until Friday, would:
  • Not write anything down
  • Not plan or schedule anything
  • Be spontaneous whenever possible
  • Use the words "might, around, maybe, possibly, some time and probaby" a lot
  • Use time intervals (like between noon and three) instead of distinct times and
  • Do things I felt like doing right then without hesitation

Similarly Jonathan, from Monday until Friday, would:
  • Not use his e-mail or instant messaging
  • Not use his cellphone to call anyone or text anyone
  • Not check his voicemails or text messages
  • Pay close attention to whoever he was with at that moment
  • Plan person-to-person contact whenever possible
  • Answer his phone if his mother called and
  • Use someone else's phone if he HAD to call someone

In general the idea, simple said by Jonathan, was that "if you find yourself acting like you normally do, stop it." It was hard, but we knew it would be good for us.

In ten minutes it will be Friday (I didn't plan that, I just looked at the clock and it said so) and the last day of this bet will begin. As I've told Jonathan a few times this week, however, I have a feeling I won't be going back to my old ways too quickly on Saturday. I have had at least a dozen interactions with friends and family members this week that were very meaningful to me, but completely unplanned. In fact, looking back on them, I know that they would not have happened if I had tried to plan them out. I have talked with my mom, dad, sister and brother in particular in ways and for amounts of time that I wouldn't have made time for otherwise. As it works out, I am valuing these moments in my life more and more and discovering that they define me. Actually (and this should definitely be noted), I didn't even watch Lost Wednesday night. Yes, it's true. I love Lost (the TV show), but for the first time in months and months, I missed the show. Well, I probably shouldn't say "missed", I just didn't watch it the night it aired. I will watch it eventually, some time. (Note the this Travis writing?)

On Jonathan's end of the bet there have been some valuable experiences this week too. In fact, just yesterday Jonathan told me he was with some friends and throughout his time with them they kept answering their cellphones and text messaging people. He thought to himself, "Man, that's annoying...This must be how everyone else feels when I do it." I didn't imagine such a helpful interaction would occur during our experiment, but just like in my case, Jonathan noticed a lot of value in not being himself.

I don't know how tomorrow will go exactly (I haven't planned much) but I have a feeling it will fill up with some great adventures and a lot of fun activities. In fact, the less I think about it, the more excited I get.

"When you see someone put their Big Boots on, you know an adventure is probably going to happen." - Winnie the Pooh
(Anna and I found this quote in a little bookstore, randomly)